Last orders?

It seems there aren’t many visitors to this site lately, and certainly no ongoing “user engagement” in the form of comments. Your author is a senior who can’t travel outside of Central California very often, and the fewer new posts here, the lower Google ranks the site in search results — so it’s a vicious cycle.

I had hoped there might be at least one reader who would join me in contributing photos, but no one has stepped up. So unless something changes, I will shut down the site in a couple of months when my current web hosting contract expires.

I don’t mean this to sound like sour grapes, since I know I’m not alone. Personal websites could attract interest in 1994 — when I first created one — and for years after, but Facebook has just sucked all the air out of the room. I guess I’ll consider posting padded bar photos in a Facebook group, but it will be with a heavy heart. If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em?

Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge (Milwaukee, WI)

Sadly Milwaukee is far away from our stamping grounds, but Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge demands inclusion due to its consumate beauty and state of preservation. Bryant’s opened in 1936 as a beer hall but its owner, Bryant Sharp, decided to give up beer in order to serve only cocktails.  As part of this transformation, he took out his jukebox and replaced it with a record player, on which he played only classical music.

In 1971, Bryant’s interior was completely destroyed by fire and rebuilt into the padded paradise that remains today. While we don’t know what music they play now, the bar is equipped with a high-end McIntosh stereo. And there are no TV screens!

Boss Cocktail Lounge (Bakersfield, CA)

The Boss Cocktail Lounge is an unassuming locals bar on Buck Owens Blvd. It was built in 1965, along with the attached diner, Zingo’s Cafe. The latter’s hearty fare was said to have been a favorite of Merle Haggard, whose autographed photo hangs on the wall behind the cash register.

As shown below, the lounge opens at 6 am on Saturdays and Sundays, perfect for a pre-breakfast drink.

Halloween 2021
Breakfast at Zingo’s

Wool Growers Restaurant (Bakersfield, CA)

The Wool Growers Restaurant in Bakersfield is one of several great Basque restaurants in town. It offers not only great hospitality but also the closest thing to home-cooking we’ve ever encountered when eating out. It also has the longest, most nicely-padded bar we can recall seeing. Perfect to sit at while you drink your Picon Punch.

Family-run since 1954, the Bakersfield restaurant is not related to the Wool Growers Restaurant in Los Banos, CA. (The latter has a similar menu, and you can get a Picon Punch there too, but the bar is not padded.)

C.J. prepares a Picon Punch …

Bob Dylan’s Coffee Shop

Blythe, California is a desert city that’s situated about halfway between Los Angles and Phoenix on Interstate 10. We visited it a few years ago to check out the Courtesy Coffee Shop, a time capsule of an establishment that deserved to be world-famous — if it were in Palm Springs, Los Angeles, or San Francisco, it would probably be.

The classical coffee shop out front was marvelous enough, but pushing open the tufted red door to go into the cocktail lounge disclosed a wonderland. Apart from a couple of flat-screen TVs, there was little to betray you weren’t in 1964.

A padded bar rail, knee padding, soft booths, martinis — the Courtesy Coffee Shop had it all. Good food, too. Our friendly bartender, A—-, had been working there for thirty years.

Sadly, while the Courtesy Coffee Shop somehow made it through 2020, it closed earlier this year. In February, it was listed for sale for $675,000. We hope that someone will purchase it and cherish it — but how likely is that?

Meanwhile, all these years I had somehow missed the fact that Bob Dylan (yes, the somewhat-well-known singer/songwriter) has been drawing and painting since the 1960s. In 2016, there was an exhibition of his works called The Beaten Path, about which he wrote:

The common theme of these works [is] having something to do with the American landscape—how you see it while crisscrossing the land and seeing it for what it’s worth. Staying out of the mainstream and traveling the back roads, free-born style. I believe that the key to the future is in the remnants of the past. That you have to master the idioms of your own time before you can have any identity in the present tense. Your past begins the day you were born and to disregard it is cheating yourself of who you really are.

One of the many locations Dylan visited to paint was — yes — the Courtesy Coffee Shop. His watercolor of it is the first image below.

Bob Dylan’s watercolor of the Courtesy Coffee Shop.

Until just a few years ago, the Courtesy Coffee Shop not only had several palm trees immediately in front of the building — now cut down — but also had palms growing through the roof. You can still see proof on Google Street View.

Google Street View photos, 2015

Apart from that there was ’60s “pop” wallpaper and original door handles for the bathrooms, a “Cocktail Lunge” sign, plus carpet and red tablecloths in the dining room. Unfortunately, the bathrooms have been newly tiled, and these other details have gone.

Cocktail L unge (via Pinterest user Matthew Reader)

Women’s bathroom as it was (Yelp reviewers)

The lounge before a flat-screen TV covered the wall

The postcard image below shows what the Courtesy Coffee Shop looked like when it first opened. Below that, a picture of the wallpaper that was in the men’s room. And the final two images shown are from the 2021 real estate listing.

The ultimate expression of an era

As of June 15, 2021, California lifted its COVID-19 restrictions regarding capacity limits, masking, etc. We mourn not only the many people who died during the pandemic, as well as –- though less significant, of course –- the bars that were also unable to survive.

Hopefully the gradual return to normalcy and the renewed ability to travel will help establishments thrive. I’m hoping to yet again see added entries for this blog. However, we badly need correspondents for who can provide original photos and information about bars I am unable to visit.

If you’re interested in participating, please contact me via the form that appears below. (The same form is also available from anywhere in the blog by clicking on the “Our Mission” menu at the top right.)

On this blog we have a wide-ranging appreciation for mid-century architecture. To be pictured here, however, an establishment should have comfy padding on the bar rail, knee padding down below, or both. Why? Because the fact that many Naugas were sacrificed on the altar of drinker comfort is quite simply the ultimate expression of an era.

A Nauga on the Johnny Carson Show

The Patio (Sunnyvale, CA)

Another family-owned bar, again with its soul intact. The padding might not be the richest, but it entirely suits this relaxed establishment, friendly to locals and visitors alike.

There is a mostly covered area (not really a “patio” any more) out back where smoking is allowed. (Ashtrays are provided as is a second pool table.) Thanks to a hallway and a fan, however, the smoke doesn’t really come out front, in case that would worry you.

Mariano’s Club (Salinas, CA)

Mariano’s Club has been family-owned since it opened in 1967, which no doubt accounts for its’ being preserved in great shape. It is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with live Mexican music and dancing from 9pm on.

Earlier on those same evenings, it’s a quiet, peaceful place to enjoy a drink in comfort. Because of the dance floor, Mariano’s actually has two padded bars; they feature bowling-ball-like sparkly material like we haven’t seen before.